Building an Anti-War Movement
that Fights on Two Fronts
Hands Off Iberville!
By Jay Arena
New Orleans WDN
New Orleans' anti-war movement is making a concrete connection between the two fronts of the war. Local anti-war activists are working in solidarity with the African American working class residents of the Iberville public housing development to derail plans by local real estate sharks and the city government to demolish their community.
Iberville Housing Development Under Attack
The Iberville, like the former St Thomas, sits on valuable real estate next to the historic French Quarter. The long-term efforts to destroy the community intensified in 2004 when developers and local officials unveiled plans to "revitalize" nearby Canal Street and remove most of the residents.
The local anti-war movement responded by contacting residents to show their support. Arising from this outreach, anti-war activists marched, on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, to Charity Hospital and the Iberville development to dramatize the link between the war and social cuts at home. This was followed up by a protest a few weeks later at the city council where tenant leader Latasha Meredith spoke out against demolition.
In 2005 residents and anti-war activists are working to strengthen and expand the movement. On January 6thand 13th meetings were held with residents and anti-war activists. A new organization, Hands off Iberville was formed and all agreed that a bottom line demand of the group is that not one unit is destroyed at Iberville and that all the public housing apartments destroyed in the 1990s are rebuilt. Activists decided to march in the annual Martin Luther King march
and carry placards and banners opposing demolition and the war while passing out thousands of flyers to the parade goers. On Saturday, Feb.12, 2005, Iberville residents, including Delena Moss and Doris Narcisse, C3 members, and other community supporters-- held a successful protest/press conference to oppose any scheme to reduce even one more unit of public housing at the Iberville housing development, or anywhere in the city. Three local TV stations placed the story at the top of their Saturday broadcasts. On April 7th the growing movement held a "night out against gentrification" at an abandoned department store, located next to the Iberville development. "Developers" are now converting the building into high priced penthouses, some going for almost $1 million.
The War at Home and Abroad
In the early 1990s New Orleans had approximately 14,000 units of public housing that was home to over 50,000 people, almost all African American. In the 1970s and 1980s, in the face of steep federal cutbacks, residents organized for improved living conditions, jobs, and against police brutality.
In the 1990's the Democrat William Clinton followed up cuts made by previous Republican administrations with a new plan for public housing--demolish it! African American and other workers of color bore the brunt of the racist federal steamroller. Under the so-called "HOPE VI" program, Clinton's Department of Housing and Urban Development demolished over 80,000 public housing units between 1996 and 2002. In New Orleans alone the number of units dropped by over half, to about 6000 apartments.
In New Orleans--and across the country--developments located on valuable real estate have been the most vulnerable. For example, housing authority officials demolished the entire St. Thomas complex, which was located along the riverfront and the growing tourist complex of hotels, restaurants, condos, and the convention center. This ethnic and class cleansing drove some 1000 working class African Americans families from the area. Accelerating gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood pushed out even more.
While the local and national government steamroll affordable housing, they spend billions on war and imperial expansion. Workers Democracy Network activists point-out that while the government cries it has no money for housing, it has already spent 140 billion on the war in Iraq. According to the National Priorities Project the contributions of workers in New Orleans alone to the Iraq war comes to over 120 million, which could provide over 1,000 well built homes for working class families.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security advisor to James Carter, and a leading architect and strategist for the US imperialist state, has made explicit the connection between the war at home and abroad on workers. At a luncheon organized by the Democratic Party aligned capitalist think-tank and policy forum, the New America Foundation, he argued that for the US to "win" in Iraq, that is to be able to defeat the insurgency and implant a reliable government that can guarantee access to Iraqi oil and construct an "open" economy that US international capital can plunder, the US needs to be "being willing to commit 500,000 troops, spend $200 billion a year, probably have a draft, and have some form of war compensation". The political question, for Brezinski, is whether US imperialism can obtain the sacrifices at home that would be necessary to "win" in Iraq.
Brezinski, an in-house critic of the Iraq war, fears that attempts to impose "sacrifice", that is to further cuts in workers standard of living and undermine democratic rights, might result in a fight-back that the capitalist class could not control. What is seen as a "threat", by this loyal servant of US imperialism, is an opportunity for revolutionaries. Brezinski's insightful analysis drives home the strategic importance for working class activists in the US to connect, through their organizing, the attack on workers at home and abroad. US imperialist expansion, from the war in Iraq to the counter-insurgency campaign in Colombia, is based on the ability to impose austerity at home, and strip people of basic democratic rights necessary to mount a fight-back.
Moving from Slogans to Action
"US out of Iraq!...Lets fight a war against racism and poverty at home!…Money for housing, health care and jobs, not war!" Anti-war activists have raised these slogans and demands across the country. The challenge now is to build a movement and organization that that can make these connections and fight on both fronts. The organizing of Workers Democracy Network activists in New York-New Jersey with immigrant rights, and in New Orleans with housing, are part of this effort. These insurgencies are the necessary building blocks for constructing a class-wide movement against US imperialism and capitalism.
For more information on the Hands of Iberville campaign contact Jay Arena at 504-520-9521.